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Liveblogging the Civil War: April 2, 1865: The Fall of Petersburg

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Wikipedia: The Fall of Petersburg:

The thinly-held Confederate lines at Petersburg had been stretched to the breaking point by earlier Union movements that extended those lines beyond the ability of the Confederates to man them adequately and by desertions and casualties from recent battles. As the much larger Union forces, which significantly outnumbered the Confederates, assaulted the lines, desperate Confederate defenders held off the Union breakthrough long enough for Confederate government officials and most of the remaining Confederate army, including local defense forces, and some Confederate Navy personnel, to flee Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia during the night of April 2–3. Confederate corps commander Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was killed during the fighting. Union soldiers occupied Richmond and Petersburg on April 3, 1865 but most of the Union Army pursued the Army of Northern Virginia until they surrounded and forced Robert E. Lee to surrender that army on April 9, 1865 after the Battle of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

The 292-day Richmond–Petersburg Campaign (Siege of Petersburg) began when two corps of the Union Army of the Potomac, which were unobserved when leaving Cold Harbor at the end of the Overland Campaign, combined with the Union Army of the James outside Petersburg, but failed to seize the city from a small force of Confederate defenders at the Second Battle of Petersburg on June 15–18, 1864. Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant then had to conduct a campaign of trench warfare and attrition in which the Union forces tried to wear down the smaller Confederate Army, destroy or cut off sources of supply and supply lines to Petersburg and Richmond and extend the defensive lines which the outnumbered and declining Confederate force had to defend to the breaking point. The Confederates were able to defend Richmond and the important railroad and supply center of Petersburg, Virginia, 23 miles (37 km) south of Richmond for over 9 months against a larger force by adopting a defensive strategy and skillfully using trenches and field fortifications....

Confederate General-in-chief Robert E. Lee, who was already concerned about the ability of his weakening army to maintain the defense of Petersburg and Richmond, realized that the Confederate defeat at Fort Stedman would encourage Grant to make a move against his right flank and communication and transportation routes. On the morning of March 29, 1865, Lee prepared to send some reinforcements to the western end of his line and began to form a mobile force of about 10,600 infantry, cavalry and artillery under the command of Major General George Pickett and cavalry commander Major General Fitzhugh Lee. This force would go beyond the end of the line to protect the key junction at Five Forks in Dinwiddie County....

The decisive Battle of Five Forks, was fought on April 1, 1865, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, around the road junction of Five Forks in Dinwiddie County, Virginia.... The Union Army inflicted over 1,000 casualties on the Confederates and took at least 2,400 prisoners while seizing Five Forks, the key to control of the vital South Side Railroad. Union casualties were 103 killed, 670 wounded, 57 missing for a total of 830.... About 1:00 p.m. on April 1, Sheridan's cavalry hit the front and right flank of the Confederate line.... The Union infantry forces attacked about 4:15 p.m. Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee were having a late shad bake lunch about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of the main Confederate line along White Oak Road because they thought Sheridan was unlikely to be organized for an attack that late in the day.... The intervening thick, damp woods and an acoustic shadow prevented the Confederate commanders from hearing the opening stage of the battle nearby. Pickett and Lee had not told any of the next ranking officers of their absence and that those subordinates were temporarily in charge. By the time Pickett got to the battlefield, his lines were collapsing beyond his ability to reorganize them....

On the morning of April 1, Robert E. Lee sent a letter to Jefferson Davis... [stating] that consideration must be given to 'evacuating their position on the James River at once.'... When the Battle of Five Forks ended, Colonel Horace Porter, General Grant's aide and observer at the battle, started back for Grant's headquarters at about 7:30 p.m... told Grant that over 5,000 prisoners were taken.... Grant... ordered a general assault along the lines.... As ordered by General Grant, at 10:00 p.m., Union artillery opened fire with 150 guns on the Confederate lines opposite the Union Army's Petersburg lines until 2:00 a.m.... The Union assault began at about 4:30 a.m....

The first Union soldier over the Confederate defenses was Captain Charles G. Gould of the 5th Vermont Infantry Regiment of the Vermont Brigade of Getty’s division, who moved to the left of the main body through the ravine, down the Confederate picket path and over the plank bridge with three other men. He was soon followed by Lieutenant Pratt and about 50 other men. Gould suffered three severe bayonet and sword wounds, including two to his head, but a rifle pointed at him point blank misfired. He survived from his injuries after being helped back over the parapet by Corporal Henry H. Rector....

After the the initial breakthrough, stragglers from Wright's corps continued heading straight forward toward the South Side Railroad while most of the VI Corps troops turned to the left. A.P. Hill and Robert E. Lee both learned of the breakthrough soon after it occurred. At about 5:30 a.m. Hill rode to meet with Lee accompanied by two orderlies and an aide, Sergeant George W. Tucker. After meeting with Lee, Hill immediately mounted his horse and rode off with Colonel Charles S. Venable of Lee's staff, who was sent to find out the situation at the front, Tucker and Private William H. Jenkins. Hill intended to ride to the Boydton Line to organize its defense.... West of the Boydton Plank Road, two stragglers from the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Corporal John W. Mauk and Private Daniel Wolford, stumbled upon Hill and Tucker as they rode through woods parallel to the Boydton Plank Road. Hill demanded their surrender, but the Union soldiers took aim, fired and killed him. Tucker escaped and rode back to Lee to report Hill's death....

When General Robert E. Lee learned of the VI Corps breakthrough, he notified Confederate President Jefferson Davis that he would be forced to abandon Richmond and Petersburg and head toward Danville that night. Initially, Lee sent a telegram to Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckenridge which stated:

I see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here until night. I am not certain I can do that. If I can I shall withdraw to-night north of the Appomattox, and, if possible, it will be better to withdraw the whole line to-night from James River. I advise that all preparations be made for leaving Richmond tonight. I will advise you later according to circumstances.... I think it is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position to-night. I have given all the necessary orders on the subject to the troops; and the operation, though difficult, I hope will be performed successfully. I have directed General Stevens to send an officer to your Excellency to explain the routes to you by which the troops will be moved to Amelia Court-House, and furnish you with a guide and any assistance that you may require for yourself.

Davis immediately began preparations for the Confederate government and such archives as could be transported to leave Richmond for Danville that night via the Richmond and Danville Railroad....

The Union forces lost 3,936 men on April 2, 1865. Confederate casualties were at least 5,000, most of whom were taken prisoner....

At 3:00 p.m., Lee gave the orders for the retreat from Richmond and Petersburg, to begin at 8:00 p.m. Routes of withdrawal, including designation of bridges to cross to the north side of the Appomattox River, were drawn up by Colonel Thomas M.R. Talcott. Artillery preceded infantry. Wagon trains were to move on separate roads. Most trains and troops crossed to the north side of the Appomattox River by the railroad, Pocahontas or railroad bridges. Amelia Court House was the designated assembly point for Lee's Army. Most of the army moved west on the north side of the Appomattox River but most of Anderson's command, including Pickett's and Bushrod Johnson's divisions and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry moved on the south side of the river. Before the withdrawal, the Confederates disabled all heavy artillery but took about 200 light artillery pieces with them along with over 1,000 wagons....

Grant wrote to his wife on the night of April 2:

I am now writing from far inside of what was the rebel fortifications this morning but what are ours now. They are exceedingly strong and I wonder at the sucsess [sic] of our troops carrying them by storm. But they did it and without any great loss. Altogether this has been one of the greatest victories of the war. Greatest because it is over what the rebels have always regarded as their most invincable [sic] Army and the one used for the defence of their capital. We may have some more hard work but I hope not....

The Confederate capital of Richmond, now unprotected by Lee's army, fell to Union forces along with Petersburg on April 3, 1865.... The retreat that led to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865 had begun.

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